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The Importance of Physical Therapy After an Orthopedic Injury

A common theme in orthopedic recovery is physical therapy. Physical therapy involves manipulation of the bones and muscles of the injured area to improve range of motion, reduce swelling and promote healing. After recovery from just about any moderate to severe injury, patients would likely undergo a course of physical therapy.

Woman at physical therapy with medicine ball regaining strength and function after an orthopedic injury and treatment at Premier Orthopaedic & Trauma Specialists

But why is that? Can’t the body heal on its own?

The short answer is that yes, the body has an amazing ability to heal itself including bone or soft tissue injury. However, related structures like muscles and nerves can also be injured or irritated and take a while to heal. Some may not be able to heal fully without help from a physical therapist.

So, what is the purpose of physical therapy?

If you look at a skeleton, like the one you would find in science class in grade school, you will notice that the bones don’t have a mechanism by which to move on their own. What the skeleton doesn’t show you is that tendons connect bones to muscle, which allow for proper movement and range of motion. Further, nerves are threaded throughout our bodies, weaving between bone and muscle structure, which control the sensation of pain. If entrapment or irritation of these nerves are not addressed after a serious injury, their dysfunction can lead to long-term disability and pain.

What is the typical course of physical therapy?

A typical course of physical therapy largely depends on the location of the injury and the severity of the injury. Your surgeon and your physical therapist will communicate about the best course of action, length of treatment and expected results. The course of physical therapy may be shortened or lengthened depending on your progress, as well as insurance coverage and approval.

What happens during physical therapy?

Your physical therapist will physically manipulate the soft tissue around the area of the injury and related structures. This may serve the purpose of both loosening and strengthening the muscles and allowing nerves to glide more freely. After this one-on-one therapy, you will be given a series of exercises to perform – both at the office and between sessions, at home. These exercises serve to reinforce the work you’ve done with your physical therapist.

When your physical therapist and surgeon determine that you’ve received the full benefit of the therapeutic program, you will be sent home with a full set of exercises that you should continue well into the future.

The bottom line

Physical therapy is a great way to strengthen muscle and improve range of motion after a moderate to severe injury. It may also be suitable for patients who have lost some range of motion or who have nagging pain, not necessarily caused by an injury or surgery. Most importantly, speak to your orthopedic surgeon, to get a proper diagnosis regarding any pain you may have and how best to treat it.